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Snake Boat Sneaks Ahead to Set World Record

June 2008
Snake Boat Sneaks Ahead to Set World Record

How many people in a canoe would it take to win a spot in the Guinness World Records? Answer: 142. That’s because Aries Chundan, known to be the first snake boat built from steel, recently set a record in Kerala by carrying a crew of 141 rowers. The Nehru Trophy Boat Race, which got its start in 1952, is held every August in Alappuzha district (formerly Allepey) in a lake named Punnamada. According to legend, snake boats in the region were first constructed 400 years ago, when the rajas of Travancore, after suffering defeats in battle, came up with the idea of having faster-moving boats to overcome their enemies. A long curvy boat that could hold many rowers seemed like a good solution. Even back then, apparently, about 100 rowers could be accommodated.

The trophy is a silver replica of a snake-boat on a wooden abacus, with the following message by Nehru carved on it, just above his signature: “To the winner of the boat-race, which is a unique feature of community life in Travancore-Cochin.” This is just the most popular of a handful of boat races held in Kerala every year. The Indira Gandhi Boat Race, instituted by the state government to promote tourism, takes place in Kochi (formerly Cochin). Then there is also a boat race to commemorate the famous festival of Onam. At least 10 to 12 boats compete in the races, with each carrying dozens of participants. Although some boats like Aries Chundan use steel, most are carved out of huge trees called anjilis. A few riders act as cheerleaders, but the majority do intensive rowing. The craft of building these boats has been passed down through the generations.

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